From the endless line of desserts and the intoxicating smell of French fries to the sizzling sound of burgers, school cafeterias are every child’s dream. Ordering healthy options can be a challenge for young children when they are surrounded by their favorite treats. Teach your child how to order a balanced meal before they go back to school to help ensure your child eats right all year.
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Healthy Go-To Choices
According to the USDA and HHS 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, healthy go-to food items that are good for your child and tasty, too, are:
- A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
- Fruits, especially whole fruits
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
- Low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
- A variety of proteins, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
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Learning to Balance
Teach your child the simple math of building a balanced meal. That means:
- ½ of the plate should be fresh fruit, salad, or veggies
- ¼ of the plate should be a starch (grains, potatoes, rice or quinoa)
- ¼ of the plate should be lean protein
- Low-fat white milk or low-fat yogurt on the side
Cafeterias have a variety of food choices, so every balanced meal depends on the daily options.
Pack a Lunch
The best way to watch what your child eats is to personally pack school lunches for or with your child. This allows for portion control, monitored meals, and a variety of healthier choices. Pack a sandwich on whole grain bread, baked chips or pretzels, bottled water, small yogurt or white milk, and fresh fruit or vegetable. Personalize your child’s lunch by adding a small note or sticker to help brighten their day.
The cafeteria carries an endless variety of treats. Moderation is key, so teach your child how to pick wisely and order a balanced meal. Limit your child to eating unhealthy choices only once or twice a per week, and teach them to enjoy the healthy options instead.
Updated Sept. 15, 2020
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